Data collection to begin as council moves toward Gulf ratz

Upcoming discussions on plans to rationalize the Gulf of Alaska trawl fisheries will consider adaptive management and the potential for community fisheries associations.

The North Pacific Fishery Management Council, an 11-member body that manages federal fisheries from three to 200 miles offshore from Alaska, requested three discussion papers on rationalization issues at its meeting in Anchorage April 11.

The council is looking at ways to reduce and manage bycatch in the Gulf of Alaska trawl fisheries, most likely by ending the race for fish through a rationalization program that assigns fishing privileges for a portion of the harvest based on past catch history or other factors.

The council also took final action asking the National Marine Fisheries Service, or NMFS, to begin the economic data collection program for Gulf of Alaska fisheries.

NMFS Assistant Regional Administrator Glenn Merrill, who was sitting in for Alaska Region Administrator Jim Balsiger during the Gulf of Alaska trawl discussions, made the motion for action.

His motion also called for the council or its staff to have the opportunity to review the data collection forms if they change from version the council had approved.

The data collection program is intended to provide baseline info on the current status and economics of the fishery beginning in 2015, which can then be used to gauge any changes caused by a future rationalization program.

Council member and Alaska Department of Fish and Game Commissioner Cora Campbell made the motion for a discussion paper on several elements of a possible structure for the Gulf fisheries.

As proposed by Campbell and passed unanimously by the council, the trawl program would apply in the central and western Gulf of Alaska and west Yakutat fishing areas.

Her motion designated Pacific cod and pollock as target species, but also designated rex sole, arrowtooth flounder and deep water flatfish as possible targets in the central Gulf, rockfish as a possible western Gulf target and Pacific Ocean perch as a possible west Yakutat target. The motion included several other secondary target species.

Initially, discussions of a Gulf program focused primarily on pollock and Pacific cod, but fishery participants, including Alaska Groundfish Databank Executive Director Julie Bonney, asked for other species to be included to avoid creating a secondary race for fish for those other species.

“If you allocate only some species, then you may have a race within your structure,” Bonney said.

Campbell said her motion responded to that point.

Primary and secondary species catch would be allocated to cooperatives on the basis of fishing history associated with the fishing permits held by members of the co-op.

That discussion paper will analyze reduction in prohibited species catch, such as halibut and king salmon, but the motion did not contain specific percentage reductions. The proposals that came forward from the council’s Advisory Panel, however, identified specific reductions for the program.

The paper will also look at cooperative management and gear modifications as mechanisms for reducing bycatch.

Council member Duncan Fields of Kodiak said he’d like to find additional ways to incentivize bycatch reduction and provide fishery participants with “carrots” to do so.

The previous discussion paper looked at the idea of providing additional fishing quota to participants with the least bycatch, but concluded that there were issues with administrating such a program.

The council also discussed including West Yakutat trawlers, where there is not currently a cap on chinook, or king, salmon bycatch, in the current Gulf chinook limits.

Eligibility for the structure being studied would be based on trawl landings during qualifying years; the motion calls for reviewing 2008-12, 2007-12 and 2003-12 as possible qualifying periods.

The paper will also look at cooperative structures, various types of community protections, and the potential to allow trawlers to use pot gear for their harvest. It will also evaluate the potential for operators to choose to remain in a limited access fishery, sideboards limits for participants from other fisheries, among other issues.

The community protections that will be studied include regional landing requirements, processor and vessel use caps that would limit consolidation, and additional participation criteria.

Campbell said participation criteria was something she wanted to see staff and the public weigh in on.

“It might be important as a way to preserve entry opportunities,” Campbell said.

Campbell said that the idea behind allowing conversions to pot gear was to allow a type of fishing that reduces bycatch. However, fish caught by former trawlers using pots would be counted against the trawl allocation, and the paper will look at ways to prevent such an allowance from affecting the pot sector.

Campbell’s motion came after several hours of public testimony on the previous iteration of a Gulf discussion paper.

Council member Roy Hyder praised Campbell’s motion, and said it was responsive to much of that testimony.

“I’m looking forward to this discussion as we proceed,” Hyder said.

Adaptive management, community fishing associations also discussed

Fields and council member John Henderschedt of Seattle also made motions for additional discussion papers.

Henderschedt asked for a paper studying the adaptive management quota used in the Pacific Fishery Management Council’s west coast groundfish trawl program. That paper will analyze how that program is working, including the costs and opportunities involved, and Henderschedt’s motion carried unanimously.

The discussion paper presented at the April meeting considered limiting the duration of shares as one type of adaptive management. Campbell’s motion did not include that because the staff paper raised too many potential issues with doing so.

Fields also asked for a paper reviewing community fishing associations, or CFAs. That’s intended as a way to help protect communities, particularly the locally-based Kodiak processing and harvester workforce, and preserve entry-level opportunities in the fisheries.

The council Advisory Panel, made up of 20 fisheries stakeholders, recommended further study of CFAs as a possible element in a future Gulf of Alaska rationalization program.

Fields’ motion included the outline of one CFA design, but council members said they were primarily supporting the notion of looking at CFAs and community protections in general, not supporting a particular structure.

“My intent was to create a larger discussion about tools that might be helpful for council in attaining our goals and objectives,” Fields said in speaking to his motion.

That passed in a 10-1 vote, with  Hyder voting against it. Hyder said he supported the idea of protecting communities, but thought there might be a better way to do so than creating additional bureaucracy and management through a CFA structure.

Public testimony on CFAs was mixed. Some fishers and community groups, including local governments, supported the idea of using CFAs to preserve entry-level opportunity and protect communities from job losses or fewer landings.

Other fishers, however, opposed the idea.

Tom Manos, a fisherman from the western Gulf, said he thought a CFA could wind up taking quota away from a longtime participant and giving it to someone else.

Manos fishes out of King Cove, and said he did want to provide entry-level opportunity in the western Gulf, but didn’t support a community fishing entity as the way to provide it.

The papers will likely come back before the council at its October meeting, although council members said that if they weren’t ready well in advance for stakeholders, including communities, to review, they’d prefer to push the review to December.

The council heard from both representatives of the Aleutians East Borough, the City of Kodiak and the Kodiak Island Borough. Those entities are all trying to weigh in on the coming fishery changes, but said it can take time to come up with an official government opinion on proposals because of the need to reach out to the public and reflect the diversity of opinions in each community.

Kodiak has created a joint working group on the issues, and Campbell noted that she thought there might be a need for some more focused outreach in the western Gulf.

Molly Dischner can be reached at [email protected].

11/21/2016 - 10:05am